Tacloban (Philippines) (AFP) – Philippine survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan recalled their terror and loss in memorial gatherings held Thursday for the thousands killed five years ago in the country’s worst storm on record.
Then the strongest typhoon to ever hit land, Haiyan left more than 7,360 people dead or missing across the central Philippines, with a tsunami-like storm surge wiping out communities and triggering a global humanitarian response.
In Tacloban, the worst-hit city, residents painted gravestones in memory of the typhoon dead. They laid flowers and lit candles at tombs and a mass grave for unidentified victims.
Survivors of the calamity shed tears as they recounted how they had escaped death.
“I felt like it was the end of the world. It was like I was in a washing machine, a whirlpool. I was so afraid,” Amelita Gerado, 49, told AFP, describing the onslaught of seawater that swamped her home.
“There is still pain, a scar, but we are recovering,” said the woman, whose brother-in-law was among those killed.
The city government has declared November 8 a “day of remembrance and gratitude” to mark the devastation wrought by the 2013 typhoon, which highlighted how underprepared the disaster-prone Southeast Asian nation was for large-scale calamities.
“We are here to give thanks to the Lord,” said pensioner Ponciano Cruzata, one of about 4,000 people attending another memorial event at the city’s sports stadium that had served as a shelter for thousands after the storm.
The 64-year-old retired coast guard officer told AFP the surge of water had killed more than 20 of his neighbours, but his family of five had survived on the second floor of their house — the only structure left standing on the block.
Several hundred residents also attended a Catholic mass at the low-lying coastal city’s Santo Nino church in mid-afternoon.
Lanterns were to be launched from the stadium and candles lit at the building after sundown to honour the dead, officials said.
– Danger zones –
An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.
But Haiyan remains the most powerful, with gusts exceeding 305 kilometres (190 miles) per hour at first landfall.
A surge of seawater higher than a tree crashed into densely populated areas, leaving corpses strewn across streets and washing ships to shore.
Survivors and aid groups say rehabilitation has been slow, especially for the million families who lost their homes.
Of the target 205,128 permanent houses for those living in so-called danger zones, only 100,709 have been built, according to President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.
“We are addressing issues that cause the delay, which include limited availability of titled lands for resettlement, slow processing and issuance of permits,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.
Relocation sites built about an hour away from Tacloban also lacked a steady supply of electricity, drinking water, and jobs, authorities added.
For many whose relatives remain missing, the absence of their loved ones’ remains is also a lingering challenge.
“We just put gravestones here even if we are not sure their bodies are here, just so we have somewhere to light candles. I want to honour their memory,” said Michael Ybanez, who lost his mother, sister, a nephew and a niece in the tragedy.